Much as I love the countryside I’m often drawn to cityscapes as much as landscapes, particularly those that show off quirky architecture and harbours. Bristol-based artist Susie Ramsey makes beautiful use of both these elements in her paintings and pen and ink drawings, capturing the beauty of cobbled streets and narrow waterways.“I’ve always loved painting and drawing but didn’t pursue it is a career until the end of 2013,” says Susie. “I’d been working as a social policy researcher for the last 10 years for a children’s charity. When that work came to an end I took the opportunity to have some time off and decided to cycle from Bristol to the heel of Italy over seven weeks.”
This mammoth journey gave Susie the space to think about how she really wanted to spend her days. It also gave her the impetus to start paint a pen and ink postcard for every day of the 3,000 kilometre trip, which she later turned into a 45-postcard exhibition titled Postcards from the road: sketches from Bristol to Brindisi.
“While sketching the views, street scenes and mountain scenery I decided that it was now or never – I was going to dedicate my time to becoming a full time artist.”
Turning that life-changing decision into reality took time and courage, which began with displaying her Postcards from the road exhibition at Bristol’s Roll for the Soul café in November 2013. “In order to give this new career some structure I enrolled myself on the Outset Business course, which was fantastic in helping me formulate my ideas and look at all the different aspects of being self-employed,” Susie says. “It was also the first time I said publicly to a room full of people that I was planning on being a full time artist (before telling all my friends and family!) which was very empowering.”
Then followed a period of seeking and forging contacts in Bristol’s art community. “I’ve become involved in a number of Bristol’s Art Trails, and in April 2014 I started to regularly sell my limited edition prints and cards from my ‘popup shop’ at local arts markets, including Harbourside Market, SS Great Britain Markets and Make Sunday’s Special, as well as stocking my work in local shops and selling through my website.”
It sounds like a lot of persistence is needed, but Susie is adamant she’s loving every minute.
“I love the freedom that I have to direct and shape my own work,” she says. “You’re the sole decision maker, which makes you flexible enough to take opportunities as they arise. I stand and fall by my own mistakes or hard work, and that risk and reward really suits my way of working. It’s a real passion and vocation, so I may be working long hours but I don’t notice it at all because I am doing what I love. If I’m not painting or selling my work I’m thinking about the next piece anyway!”
Susie is often commissioned by members of the public who’ve seen her paintings and want her to create something equally special of their own home or favourite view. “The instant reaction and feedback from people about my work is very exciting,” says Susie. “As an artist every day is different. At the weekend I can be doing very public facing work selling my artwork at the Harbourside Market and then if needed I can lock myself away in my studio for few weeks to complete a painting.”
Susie particularly loves the variety the work offers. “You’re basically a one-man band. I had to learn quickly that the business is both about creating the artwork, and marketing and selling it. You have to trust your instincts, celebrate the successes, learn from your mistakes and not be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan.”
That seems like very sound advice!
The artwork itself, for Susie, is driven by light and colour. “Different times of day and weather conditions inspire me to capture a scene in a variety of ways,” she says. “A mundane view can be transformed by sunlight or a dramatic sky colour. I travel around my bike or foot with my sketchbook, materials and mini easel scouting for new ideas. There is always a hidden view, back street or skyline.”
Susie’s work ranges from small pen and ink postcards to large-scale canvas oil paintings, depending on the effect she wants to achieve. “Both types of work are very rewarding. Pen and watercolour can give an immediate effect and capture the moment perfectly and are my chosen medium to sketch outdoors with,” she says. “But the process of building up a large oil painting over a number of months is equally exciting as you slowly build and develop the layers and depth to a painting.”
Susie’s current exhibition, titled ‘Streets, Lanes and Skylines’ is at the Grant Bradley Galley until 28th February 2015. “It presents 16 paintings in mixed media, so people can see the range of my work and how I paint in different mediums,” she says. “I’ve created six new pen and watercolour paintings for the exhibition, including views of Corn Street, All Saint’s Lane and Broad Street. Also on display will be my Bristol Winter, Spring and Summer series which are pen, watercolour and acrylic paintings. The plan next is to complete some large oil paintings more in the style of the ‘St Stephen’s Church’ painting.”
Susie says that she’s “always been struck by the beauty of cities. You can be in a city you think you know very well, then when you take the time to look up on a sunny day and you might see architectural detail for the first time or how sunlight can change the colour of buildings. My work is inspired by how the natural world impacts on our built environment. How a change in light, weather or seasons can transform our daily city landscape.” I like to see beauty in everyday objects and Bristol has got it all really – classical architecture, the harbour and surrounding countryside.”
In Bristol, the hilly topography contributes to this appeal. “There are so many great views and potential compositions to sketch and paint. I love painting buildings and Bristol is lucky to have some incredible architecture, from the Georgian townhouse of Clifton to The Exchange buildings on Corn Street. There are so many squares, churches and alleyways to get lost in and paint. ‘Streets, lanes and skylines’ is about revealing the hidden parts of Bristol and presenting the city in a new light.”
Artistic influences include “Hopper for how he transforms the everyday into a thing of beauty, Turner for his incredible passion for light and nature, Van Gogh for his use of colour and texture. There’s a Hopper quote that always comes into my head when I’m working: ‘What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.’ For my current cityscenes I think that sums it up for me.”
Find Susie’s cards and limited edition prints at www.susieramsayartist.com, on her ‘popup’ art shop at local craft markets, in local shops and galleries such as Room 212, The Jenny Life Gallery and The Grant Bradley Gallery. Discover all her latest news at www.facebook.com/susieramsayartbristol and @susieramsay.
Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.